Arrokoth and other Kuiper Belt objects contain pristine ice, study suggests| Trending Viral hub

A duo of planetary scientists from Brown University and the SETI Institute have discovered that the Kuiper Belt Object (486958) Arrokothwhat was he aim of the January 1, 2019 flyby by NASA’s New Horizons mission, may have ancient ice stored inside since it first formed billions of years ago. Using a new model they developed to study how comets evolve, the researchers suggest that this feat of perseverance is not unique to Arrokoth, but that many Kuiper Belt objects may also contain the ancient ices from which they formed.

This composite image of Ultima Thule was compiled from data obtained by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft as it passed near the object on January 1, 2019. The image combines enhanced color data (close to what the human eye would see ) with detailed high-resolution panchromatic images.  photos.  Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Roman Tkachenko.

This composite image of Ultima Thule was compiled from data obtained by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it passed near the object on January 1, 2019. The image combines enhanced color data (close to what the human eye would see ) with detailed high-resolution panchromatic images. photos. Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Roman Tkachenko.

“We’ve shown here in our work, with a fairly simple mathematical model, that you can keep these primitive ices locked deep inside these objects for really long times,” said Dr. Sam Birch, a planetary scientist at the University of Brown. .

“Most of our community had thought that these ices should have been lost a long time ago, but we now believe that may not be the case.”

Until now, planetary scientists have had a hard time figuring out what happens to the ice in these space rocks over time.

The new study challenges widely used thermal evolution models that have not taken into account the longevity of ices that are as sensitive to temperature as carbon monoxide.

The model that Dr. Birch and SETI Institute researcher Orkan Umurhan created for the study explains this change and suggests that the highly volatile ices in these objects remain much longer than previously thought.

“We’re basically saying that Arrokoth is so super cold that in order for more ice to sublime, or go directly from solid to gas, bypassing the liquid phase inside it, the gas it sublimes into first has to travel outward through your pores. Sponge-like interior,” Dr. Birch said.

“The trick is that to move the gas, you also have to sublimate the ice, so what you get is a domino effect: inside Arrokoth it is colder, less ice is sublimed, less gas is moved, it gets even colder, and so on. “

“In the end, everything goes out and what is left is an object full of gas that is slowly escaping.”

The study suggests that Kuiper Belt objects may act as dormant “ice bombs,” preserving volatile gases inside for billions of years until orbital changes bring them closer to the Sun and heat makes them unstable.

This new idea could help explain why these icy Kuiper Belt objects erupt so violently when they first approach the Sun.

Suddenly, the cold gas inside is rapidly pressurized and these objects evolve into comets.

“The key is that we corrected a profound error in the physical model that people had been assuming for decades for these very old, cold objects,” Dr. Umurhan said.

“This study could be the initial impetus to reevaluate the theory of the evolution and activity of the comet’s interior.”

Taken together, the study challenges existing predictions and opens new avenues for understanding the nature of comets and their origins.

D. Birch and Dr. Umurhan are co-investigators in NASA Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return (CAESAR) Mission acquire at least 80 grams of material from the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and return it to Earth for analysis.

The results of this study could help guide CAESAR’s exploration and sampling strategies, helping to deepen our understanding of comet evolution and activity.

“It is quite possible that there are massive reserves of these primitive materials locked in small bodies throughout the outer Solar System: materials that are waiting to explode for us to observe or remain frozen until we can recover them and bring them home. Earth,” Dr. Birch said.

He study appears in the magazine Icarus.

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Samuel PD Birch and Orkan M. Age. 2024. Ice and CO gas retention within 486958 Arrokoth. Icarus 413:116027; doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2024.116027

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